We cannot address the big questions without understanding their historical dimension.
I am professor of strategy at the University of Birmingham Business School. Previously I worked at the University of Bristol, Aston Business School and the University of Liverpool Management School. I am currently joint editor-in-chief for Business History and serve on the editorial board of Organization Studies, Accounting History, and is co-Vice-Chair for Research & Publication at the British Academy of Management.
What are your main research interests?
As a historian working at a management school, most of my work is concerned with the connection between the social sciences and history, specifically organization studies and history. I am interested in how to theorise from historical research and in developing archival and historical methods for organization studies. My historical research focuses on the history of organizations, entrepreneurs and the wider political economy in sub-Saharan Africa.
How does your research have influence beyond the academic world? Does this include any roles you have beyond the academy?
I have presented my research on African history at external organizations such as the World Bank, and work closely with heritage professionals in multinational businesses that maintain archives, members of the Business Archives Council, and specialists at The National Archives, UK. I did some media work to raise awareness that the Thomas Cook archives were in danger of being lost in 2019, and was delighted to be representing the academic community on the committee that determined where the records are now deposited.
Is teaching still a significant part of your working life? What particular method or approach would you say characterises your teaching?
Yes after a period of management responsibilities I am back in the classroom and enjoy it more than most meetings I attended! I like teaching case method which I learned at Harvard Business School, where I was the Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in Business History (2006-2007).
What specific passions or concerns particularly inspire you in your work?
I am keen not to reduce questions or problems to academic concerns that disregard context and lived experience – both in my historical and contemporary research. As more and more historians work in management and business schools, research interests have broadened to include how the past (and history) matters to organizations in the present. I see this as particularly important in areas of the world that have been historically disenfranchised, like sub-Saharan Africa.
Which of your publications would you regard as the most significant and why?
My co-authored piece on ‘Research Strategies in Organizational History’ (with Michael Rowlinson and John Hassard, Academy of Management Review, 2014) has certainly been the most influential, but this collaboration was the result of a single-authored article, ‘Silence of the Archives’ (2013), which was the first time I was able to articulate my thinking about historical methods and what it means to do research in an archive.
What are you particularly hoping to achieve during your time as a Visiting Professor in Gothenburg?
I am keen to promote more work in African business history by collaborating with my hosts in Gothenburg and by making connections between my historical research on business in Africa and work that brings more historical research into management. Management and business research in Africa is similarly underdeveloped - and to appreciate social and economic developments on the continent we need to be more aware of its unique historical trajectory.